29 April 2008

Mennetou-sur-Cher: nearly forgotten

One of the places I keep returning to, along with Palluau-sur-Indre, is the medieval village of Mennetou-sur-Cher, up the river about 40 km/25 mi. from Saint-Aignan. What is it about the place that pulls me back?

Closed
An old neighborhood grocery store

One reason I keep driving American visitors over there, I think, is that the town seems to be so lost in time. Three of its old tower gates are still intact, along with some of the ancient ramparts. The narrow streets of the village are closed to car traffic, sauf riverains — local traffic only.

Nobody here but us...
Seen in a shop window in Mennetou

Like Palluau, the place hasn't been prettied up. If anything, Palluau is more alive and less touched by the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries than Mennetou is. Both, however, feel a little like ghost towns whenever I visit them. There is very little commerce in either — a café, a little restaurant, a boulangerie, a small grocery store, a maison de la presse for newspapers and magazine, and a couple of shops selling antiques, junk, or crafts and gifts. I never see very many people on the streets in Mennetou or Palluau.

Forget-me-nots in Mennetou-sur-Cher seem appropriate.
And the old town was full of them.

The thing about Mennetou that makes it seem to have been more badly manhandled than Palluau has been is the fact that it is squeezed in between a main road and a rail line. Of course, the village was there first. The Route Nationale 76, a two-lane highway that links the city of Tours to the big town of Vierzon, is the little town's main street, and it's a grimy one. Until recently, with the opening of the parallel A85 autoroute just north of town, big trucks rumbled through the narrow street one after another, all day long. The walls of the buildings and storefronts on main street are black with soot.

Out on the rail line
A sign pointing to the town's main commercial attraction

The railway line also runs parallel to the old route nationale and the new autoroute, between the two and just on Mennetou's northern edge. Several times a day, passenger as well as freight trains speed by the village's medieval Porte d'En-Haut, the big stone tower at the top of the old walled village. They don't stop, as far as I can tell — there's no sign of a train station.

Mennetou's Porte d'En-Bas, the lower gate
By which — who else? — Joan of Arc entered, in March 1429


The world speeds by, motorized, while Mennetou sits there immobile, feeling a little forgotten.

5 comments:

Evelyn said...

I love those forget me nots! Also would like to see that gate. I get a kick out of going somewhere Joan went.

Dale said...

isnt this town known for its dry white wine that goes well with oysters? may be another down further west???

purejuice said...

i think it's jane jacobs who explains the amputation effect on neighborhoods and cities of running major highways and throughfares through them

http://www.amazon.com/Death-Life-Great-American-Cities/dp/067974195X

also, Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, touches on this in the destruction by Robert Moses and his Bronx Expwy of the Bronx as a stable lower middle class neighborhood, into the urban wasteland cut off by the fwy known as south bronx, complete with feral dogs. it's coming back now, though. in a different more kind of hip hop incarnation. maybe this will happen at mennetou.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Evelyn, we'll go to Mennetou next time you all come to the Loire Valley. It'll be fun.

Dale, the wine town in Menetou-Salon (with one N) and this is Mennetou-sur-Cher. I've enjoyed Menetou-Salon wines but I've never actually been there.

chrissoup said...

That was a sweet little town. I didn't notice the grime on the main street. I did notice that there was no place to get coffee except an unsavory-looking bar. I don't think I've ever been anywhere in France that didn't at least have a cafe.